Larry’s review published on Letterboxd:
One of those films that has been discussed to the ends of the earth so I will TRY not to talk too much about the highly ambiguous story...
What I will say about Twelve Monkeys though is it never fails to excite and tingle that part of my brain that is so rarely stimulated by films I watch these days. Its similar to doing a light mental weightlifting set. 12 reps. Vibrating neurons. Blood flowing. Mental gymnastics. Synapses firing. A cinematic breath of fresh air waiting for a pair of lungs to breath it alllllll in. Alright thats enough hyperbole for now.
If you hadnt already been aware of Twelve Monkeys you would never know a film like it even exists. 3 ring circus leader/director/madman Terry Gilliam again crafts an intriguing world that operates like a bizarro parallel universe to our own. You want so badly to know everything about the future world ravaged by disease and where/how it all went so wrong in the past. Ive always maintained that you know a film does a good job at building a world when either you're frustrated that they dont show you more, or that you dont get to spend more time in it. Twelve Monkeys is a little bit of both and because of this seems to be keen to the idea of romanticized escapism and how it relates to the deterioration of sanity and communication in the film world.
Basic human emotions, atmosphere, madness etc. are amplified in the film like youre viewing it all through a high powered microscope. Gilliam and Co. are to credit for the maddeningly brilliant world building, set design and cinematography that are so common in his sci fi films but I believe what takes Twelve Monkeys to the next level is its incredible story penned by the duo of David and Janet Peoples who essentially weaved existential drama into an intriguing high concept scifi plot. I think Terry put it all together on screen in a way that makes the story his own, but this is the kind of dense, paradoxical plot that I like to call 'a gift that keeps on giving.' The film was released in 1995 but even today there can be a brand new way to put the film together after you catch a teeny tiny detail you may have missed last time around. Everything down to the body language of characters to things happening in the background has a purpose. I dont know how many times I have rewatched the final scene in the past day, but looking very closely at the interaction between David Morse and the Insurance Woman reveals so much about the possibilities of the ending. Its insane how far down the rabbit hole this film allows you to go.
And on the idea of madness: this time traveling trip James Cole is sent on seems to be a single link in an endless chain of participants over the years. Like the scientists in the future, through sending back countless agents, built up a chain of coincidences and degrees of separation that have finally led them to the disease. The film as it plays out is the final, successful run at locating the virus but its been meticulously practiced or rehearsed to make sure David Morse ends up on the plane next to the woman no matter what, so everything in the film seems animated or predetermined, essentially becoming self fulfilling. A guard at the asylum. A priest on the street. An airport security. A cop. They could all be agents plantes in the past to make sure everything happens as it should. Its thoughts like these that send people to a nutter house in real life but Twelve Monkeys nonetheless has the audacity to call into question this reality we percieve and how much of it, if any, is real.
Finally, Twelve Monkeys shows us the origin of the end of humanity as it would really exist. Not in a war room or an election headquarters. No, it simply starts with an idea. An idea spoken in a mad house, a fancy dinner party or a science lecture. An idea that has a ripple effect on people and seems to take on an entity of its own. Once its out there, like many things in the film, it becomes predestined. Inevitable.
Wiping out the human race?
...thats a great idea!